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25 Years of The Carter Center: Changing Agenda, Enduring Principles

The year 2007 marks the Carter Center's 25th anniversary. In the following article, former
U.S. President Jimmy Carter reflects on the Center's evolution and his hopes for waging peace, fighting disease, and building hope into the future.

By Jimmy Carter

My original concept for The Carter Center was a place for mediation, a place where leaders of countries or regions in conflict could come to resolve their differences. Looking at the work of the Center today, with programs that have touched lives in more than 70 countries promoting peace and good health, it is safe to say that the Center has far exceeded Rosalynn's and my initial dreams.


The Center was established in 1982 soon after I accepted an offer from Emory University to be a distinguished professor. My assistants and I found ourselves work­ing out of the top floor of the Emory University library on projects and quickly broadening our work to include compelling issues in human rights, nuclear arms con­trol, global health, and the environment, with a special emphasis on Latin America.

As programs expanded, so did our physical space-the current campus of the Carter Presidential Center opened in 1986, encompassing the Presidential Library and Museum and The Carter Center.

As the Center took on new projects, a set of principles emerged: We would not duplicate the effective efforts of other organizations, we would be nonpartisan, we would not let the possibility of failure deter us from making our best effort. Another unique characteristic of the Center was our desire to be an action agency, not just a think tank. Since the basic character and purpose of the Center were unprecedented, we had to prove the worth of our efforts step by step, expanding our financial resources as we demonstrated tangible results.


Although our past work has been quite var­ied, today the Center's projects tend to fall into two buckets: peace and health. Our peace work involves monitoring elections in unstable democracies; strengthening democracy beyond elections through rule of law, transparency, and citizen parti­cipation in government; and promoting human rights. On the health side, we focus on tackling neglected diseases, mostly in Africa but also in Latin America. These are diseases that are no longer found in rich countries but still run rampant in the developing world. Such diseases usually do not kill a person but rather make his or her life unbearable.

One feature of our work of which I am particularly proud is our desire to see people and countries succeed as active participants in our projects. We work among people who are living on less than a dollar a day. We recruit those people to work side by side with us in solving their own problems. We give them, many of them for the first time, an experience that is successful. We can show them that a disease can be prevented or cured, that they can grow more food in their fields, or that they can have an honest election and choose their own leaders. We give people a chance to shape their own futures, rather than be dependent on others, convinced their suffering will never be alleviated.

In fact, early on, the Center would use a generic name such as "Global 2000" for some of our projects, so that village chiefs or heads of state could feel a genuine sense of partnership and be able to claim credit when successes were realized.


Looking ahead, it is hard to imagine what the Center might be like 25 years from today. The crucial factors that will deter­mine the viability of The Carter Center are an innovative spirit, an insistence on complete independence, and a dedicated and competent staff. We must continue to probe for every opportunity to fill vacuums of need in the world and have the courage to take a chance on possible failure if the goal is worthy.

In general, the principles of the Center have been the same ones that should characterize our nation, or any individual. They are the beliefs inherent in all the great world religions, including commitments to peace, justice, freedom, humility, forgiveness or an attempt to find accommodation with potential foes, generosity, human rights or fair treatment of others, protection of the environment, and the alleviation of suffering. This is the agenda the Center will take forward with determination and commitment.

Carter Anniversary Feature

Photo credit:  Carter Center/L. Gubb

President Carter listens as the village elder who guards the dam in Savelugu, Ghana, explains how he keeps the water source safe from Guinea worm through close monitoring. The Carter Center promotes active participation by community members in its work. 


Stories Cover

25 Stories for 25 Years: A collection of a quarter-century of Carter Center peace and health success stories

Read the 25th anniversary Q&A with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn 

Watch archived Conversations at The Carter Center video with the Carters, highlighting 25th anniversary

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